Ellis Island idea could create tourism boom for Derry Quay

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From Derry quay we sailed away

It is said that nine million people globally can trace their family story back to Derry and the North West. Now, local genealogist Brian Mitchell explores the potential of Derry’s Quays as a significant visitor attraction - perhaps like ‘The American Immigrant Wall of Honor’ in New York, upon which the names of over 700,000 immigrants who came through Ellis Island and helped build America are inscribed...

Philadelphia, US, also commemorates its strong immigrant history with this stunning statue - by Glenna Goodacre - at Penn's Landing depicting the Irish arriving in Philadelphia in the mid-19th Century. (80113JC5)

Philadelphia, US, also commemorates its strong immigrant history with this stunning statue - by Glenna Goodacre - at Penn's Landing depicting the Irish arriving in Philadelphia in the mid-19th Century. (80113JC5)

From Derry quay we sailed away

On the 23rd of May

We were taken on board by a pleasant crew

Bound for Americay

UNEXPLORED POTENTIAL... Ellis Island's 'American Immigrant Wall of Honor' is a huge tourist draw in the US. Perhaps a similar commemoration wall listing the countless thousands of emigrants who left these shores for pastures new could draw tourists to the Derry's Quays? (80113JC4)

UNEXPLORED POTENTIAL... Ellis Island's 'American Immigrant Wall of Honor' is a huge tourist draw in the US. Perhaps a similar commemoration wall listing the countless thousands of emigrants who left these shores for pastures new could draw tourists to the Derry's Quays? (80113JC4)

Fresh water there we did take on

Five thousand gallons or more

In case we’d run short going to New York

Far away from the Shamrock shore.

“In my view, everyone involved in the relocation and upgrading of the Derry Emigrant display at the quay, in front of the Sainsbury’s café, should be congratulated.

I think it is an impressive tribute to Derry’s important role as an emigration port.

It contains three elements: Statues depicting three generations of one family at the quayside who are either about to leave Derry or to wave farewell to those going. Benches inscribed with the names of six ships involved in Derry’s emigrant trade over 3 centuries (i.e. the Faithful Steward commemorating the 18th century Ulster-Scots who departed here; 19th century Derry-owned sailing fleets of emigration ships represented by the Erin and Minnehaha; the Seamore and Columbia recalling the days, right up to 1939, when Derry, in the age of steamships, was a transatlantic hub for the emigration and tourist trade; and the Lairdsloch symbolising ‘the Scotch Boat’, the Derry to Glasgow passenger and livestock steamer, which was such an important part of Derry’s maritime history until 1966).

It also features an illustrated panel which summarises the history of Derry as an emigration port.

I believe it should be highlighted and mapped as a significant part of Derry’s ‘visitor attractions’.

Commemorating our past

In Philadelphia and New York, for example, they are well aware of the value of an iconic piece of public visual artwork as a focal point to commemorate the contribution of immigrants to the United States.

At Penn’s Landing there is a sculpture, by Glenna Goodacre, depicting the Irish arriving in Philadelphia in the mid-19th century.

In New York, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. promotes ‘The American Immigrant Wall of Honor’ at Ellis Island as a ‘National Treasure’ which symbolises and celebrates the courage and hope that immigrants and their ancestors brought to America. One hundred million Americans can trace an ancestor who arrived, from 1892, in the United States at Ellis Island.

There are nine million people out there whose family story includes Derry and the North West. The potential is there to build and promote Derry as the place where their story began: for example, an ancestor may have boarded a sailing ship at Shipquay Place, or stopped at Gweedore Bar, Waterloo Street on their way from west Donegal to Glasgow on the Scotch Boat, or arrived in Derry by rail, lodged in Bridge Street and then headed down Foyle, on a tender, to connect with transatlantic liners at Moville.

The emigration display at Sainsbury’s could be a fantastic opportunity to build on ‘Spirit of Place’ and ‘Power of Place’ to connect with the North West’s Diaspora.

Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, was established in May 1607. Bill Haley, Designer of the Rediscovering Jamestown 1607-1699 exhibition passionately believes that “the ‘power of place’ is the essence of a visit to Historic Jamestowne.

And the centre point of that power is the site of the James Fort. There is an ethereal almost magical feeling of standing at the very spot where modern America began. It is a feeling amplified by the exceptional archaeological remains and artifacts that have been found there”.

This concept could be very powerful in any telling of the story of emigration to Derry’s nine million overseas diaspora. Derry is the only town in Ireland which, with authenticity, can tell the complete story of Irish emigration.

Derry remained a major Irish emigration port throughout all significant phases of emigration from Ireland, such as the 18th century outflow of Ulster-Scots to colonial America; pre-Famine, Famine and post-Famine emigration to North America; and cross-channel migration to Britain via Glasgow and Liverpool.

Just as Ellis Island is seen as the entry point for American immigrants (100 million Americans can trace an ancestor back to Ellis Island) Derry can be positioned as the starting point of the emigrant’s journey.”